On this Veterans Day: 7 Maine soldiers who quietly helped win the Civil War

Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery is the largest burial ground in the state. The cemetery spreads out over about 140 acres. It was created in 1855 and, from the start, was meant to be a park. It’s a peaceful place to walk, especially this time of year.

Evergreen is the last resting place of somewhere around 1,400 Civil War veterans. Here’s a short walking tour of just seven of them. You can take a lovely walk this Veterans Day while paying your respects to those who fought for the Union and an end to slavery.

Download a map of Evergreen Cemetery HERE.


Section J – On Evergreen Circle near the end of Cyprus Avenue
43°40’52″N 70°17’58.1″W

Melcher was born on June 30, 1841 in Topsham. He was a teacher before volunteering to serve in the Civil War.

Melcher commanded Company F under Col. Joshua Chamberlain in the 20th Maine at Gettysburg in 1863. He’s probably responsible for starting the famous charge that swept the 15th Alabama down the hill at Little Round Top. He’d asked Chamberlain if he could take his men forward to retrieve some wounded comrades.

After the war, Melcher was a successful wholesale grocer and twice elected mayor of Portland.

Section M – At the end of Forest Avenue
43°40’59.9″N 70°18’5″W

Shepley was born January 1, 1819 in Saco. His father was influential U.S. Sen. Ether Shepley.

At the start of the Civil War, Shepley was a Harvard-educated lawyer and got commissioned Colonel, and commander, of the 12th Maine Volunteer Infantry. Later, via some powerful political connections, he was made Louisiana’s military governor when it fell to Union forces. Unfortunately, during his two-year governor’s stint, he was responsible for a lot of graft and corruption. He once issued a blanket pardon to all prisoners held in Louisiana civilian prisons, allowing hundreds of dangerous criminals go free.

After the war, Shepley was active in Maine politics, serving in the Legislature. President Grant appointed him to Maine’s U.S. Circuit Court where he served until his death in 1878.

Section M – On Southern Avenue
43°40’54.4″N 70°18’9.3″W

Merrill was born in 1821 in Falmouth. Before the Civil War, he was a Portland farmer and lawyer.

He was 36-years-old when he commanded the 17th Maine Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Gettysburg. The 17th fought there, in the Wheatfield, for nearly three hours on July 2, 1863. At one point, Merrill saved a man’s life by making a tourniquet out of a piece of his sword belt.

The next day, Merrill led his men against Pickett’s Charge, in the center of the Union line. Over the two days at Gettysburg, 132 men from the 17th were killed or wounded.

Merrill survived the war and died in Portland on Dec. 26, 1891.

Section R – Down in the right corner, off the end of Beechwood Avenue
43°40’44.2″N 70°18’3.5″W

Mattocks was born October 11, 1840 in Danville, Vermont. He was commissioned 1st Lieutenant in Company A, 17th Maine Volunteer Infantry on August 2, 1862. By the end of the war, he was a Brigadier General. He fought at Gettysburg in 1863.

In 1864, Mattocks was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Wilderness. He was part of a failed, but daring, escape attempt from a South Carolina POW camp that November. He wrote a fascinating account of the trial in his diary.

Mattocks was later released from the camp and went on to win the Medal of Honor for “Gallantry in leading a charge of his regiment which resulted in the capture of a large number of prisoners and a stand of colors” at the Battle of Sailor’s Creek in 1865.

After the war, Mattocks had a long career as a judge and died May 16, 1910.

Section T – On the circle around the Baxter monument
43°40’46″N 70°17’58″W

Gerrish was born in Oakfield on June 19, 1846. He was just 16 when he signed up with the 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry in 1862. He served with that unit until the end of the war.

Gerrish was wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864. After the war, he became a pastor, moved out west and got rich in real estate. He also wrote a book called “Army Life: A Private’s Reminiscences of the Civil War.” It’s the only history of the 20th Maine written by someone who served in it.

Gerrish died in Tennessee on Feb. 9, 1923.

Section V – At the crook of Main and Lawn Avenues
43°40’44.3″N 70°17’51.1″W

Thomas was born in Portland on April 5, 1837. He graduated from Amherst College in 1858 and became a lawyer. When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted as a private in the 5th Maine Volunteer Infantry Regiment and saw action in several battles including First Bull Run.

In 1863, the Army promoted Thomas to colonel of the 2nd and 19th United States Colored Infantries. He was a volunteer until 1866 when he joined the regular Army. Thomas was still serving when he died on January 23, 1897 in Oklahoma City at the age of 60.

Section V – Look for the large Celtic cross behind Thomas’s grave
43°40’45″N 70°17’50.9″W

West was born July 19, 1832 in Lowell, Massachusetts. In the Civil War, he joined up as a captain in the 10th Maine Volunteer Infantry. He rose to the rank of Colonel and commanded of the 17th Maine Volunteer Infantry regiment.

In December 1864, West was brevetted Brigadier General of U.S. Volunteers for “gallant and distinguished services during the war, and especially at the Battle of the Wilderness.”

He died in Massachusetts on May 17, 1899.

Those are only few short sketches. There’s many more stories of valor, sacrifice and folly waiting to be discovered at Evergreen Cemetery.

I hope you visit these men and, if you do, don’t forget to speak softly and say thanks. You never know, they just may hear you.

Troy R. Bennett

About Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.